I remember walking down the steps toward The Shield, that midpoint on campus where students gathered with sack lunches at midday and where cheerleaders set up boom boxes for practice after school. As far as my peers went, I always felt a little bit on the fringe of things. I wasn’t an outsider nor was I an insider. I was likeable, but I was also a little too Christian to be invited to activities or parties despite my own cheerleader, dance team, soccer player status.

I was the one heading out on every mission’s trip the school had to offer. The one whose teachers always thought was supposed to graduate that year, though I had a few more to go. I was the one who felt that though I was friendly with many, felt distinctly like a square peg in a sea of circles.

My school was a mission school—one that was devotedly committed to the gospel and that meant accepting any student religious or not, though everyone would attend Bible classes and weekly chapels. It meant for me, that I had to make choices to follow Christ as a teenager or join the crowd. It was good for me and for my faith.

My junior year was well under way and as I stood on those steps overlooking the serene and beautiful campus toward the center gathering spot, the hub of the campus, I was literally arrested by the feelings swelling in my heart. I had spent, all told, from fifth grade to twelfth grade, eight formative years here. Though I had grown by leaps and bounds in my faith as a result, I saw a good many of my peers spiraling toward all things empty and meaningless. Some committed suicide. Others left school to raise babies. Most were guppies swimming along with the current. We all made our choices.

But as I descended those grand steps I breathed a humble prayer. “Lord, use me on this campus to reach students for You.” I had one year left to be a light in what I felt was a place of shifting shadows.

When graduation came, I felt that I had run my race though I wasn’t entirely sure I had made much of a difference. I wasn’t sure if God had truly answered my prayer in the way I wanted Him to. Leaving high school was bittersweet as it so often is. Little did I know that God had not given up on my simple prayer.

I went off to a Christian college and after four years, graduated from one of the sweetest seasons of my life. My goal was to teach high school English but God directed my steps to a small private school where I taught 6th grade elementary and loved every minute of it.  I felt like I had found my calling and that God was using me. In the back of my mind, I always wondered about what it would be like to teach high school--my heart’s desire for a decade.

And then one day, my cell phone rang at the end of the school day. It was my alma mater letting me know that the teacher I had in 8th grade for a creative writing elective and who as my 10th grade English teacher inspired me to become a teacher myself, was leaving the school to move up north.

Was I interested in the position?

Five months later, I was setting up my classroom to teach 10th grade English and eventually Advanced Placement Literature and Advanced Placement Language and Composition to juniors and seniors. Those steps that served as an altar of prayer so many years before, were just outside my new classroom. I walked them every day. I had forgotten my prayer to be used on that campus until a few years into teaching and countless conversations with students about the importance of living life to the full as only God could enable them to do.

Eventually, my graduates would write to me.

They made decisions to follow Jesus because of my class.

One of them was going to commit suicide one evening when she came across a simple note I had written to her—and realized she wasn’t truly alone. Someone cared. She’d choose life.

Another student went on to be a filmmaker after an inspiriting project from my class where they had to create an original movie adaptation of one of the plays we read in class. The project altered the course of her life.

Hundreds wrote to tell me about how easy their ivy league college writing classes were because of my courses they took in high school.

Some reached out to me when they needed a visitor at the hospital years after they had left my classroom. They knew I would come.

Not a week goes by 16 years after my first class began, that someone doesn’t write and ask me to pray or give them insight.

 Many went on to become English teachers themselves!

Two of them would replace me when I left the classroom completing the circle of protégés stepping into their mentors’ very shoes.

After nearly ten years of teaching, and countless hours of disciplining young women from my classes before school, during lunch breaks, and after school, I got married, had my first son, and left teaching behind.

“Lord, use me on this campus to reach students for You” I had pleaded. I had no idea what He had in store for me:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

God doesn’t take our prayers lightly and He does not view timelines like we do. His ways are higher than ours—His plans to prosper. To give us a hope. A future!

In my mind, asking the Lord to use me on that campus as a junior in high school meant impacting my peers for Christ. I never knew that the greater plan was that He would bring me back seven years later to impact my students for Christ.   

In recent years, God moved me into an even more surprising season as a blogger and author, and I’m reminded that none of us has to be “stuck” feeling useless or unsatisfied with our lives. God created us to do good works before the foundation of the world and we will always and only be most effective when we avail ourselves to His purposes in our lives.

Take a chance and ask Him to use you. Make your steps, your bed, your car an impromptu altar with a simple but powerful prayer....

“Lord, use me!”

YOUR TURN! Do you feel like you are being used by God? Why or why not? Have you ever prayed and seen God answer in ways beyond your expectations? How can I pray for you today?




When My Child Just Doesn't "Get It" And I'm Worn Out From His Behavior!

The door SLAMS and my ears vibrate in the aftermath.

I walk into the kitchen staring at my once clean floors, and It’s obvious that not one blessed child took off their shoes before entering the house.

One kid starts shrieking from the other room. One sibling or another had taken “his spot” on the couch.

Another cries out woefully—his brother hit him.

Later that night, someone will complain about what’s being served for dinner.

No one will put their dirty clothes in the hamper!

At bedtime, one boy will speak rudely to me and another will fight me about the book I chose for bedtime stories.

It’s not always like this, but sometimes it just IS.Even the most stalwart of moms can get worn out from misbehavior.

 I’m not the mom who is going to pretend that her kids have it all together. I’m also not the mom who disciplines with swift punishments resulting in more ship shape behavior out of fear. Mine will wrestle against authority. Stretch the boundaries of my grace. Be led to repentance over time because of my loving-kindness.  They will take a childhood to learn, grow, repent, train, and mature. Of course, we will deal with each issue as it arises, continuing to teach and train and point our kids to Christ—but some days it feels like one conflict after another, doesn’t it? 

Some of their behaviors are immaturity in action. Others are willfully wrong and they know it. But what’s most at stake on these harder days is my own spiritual tenacity as their mother.

Here’s what I mean:

“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

When I consider this verse as it applies to my parenting, it’s convicting. Am I willing to be as forgiving at bedtime as I am in the morning before all the “offenses” have added up through the day? Can I forgive and forget after a long day of misbehavior? Am I willing to forgive them when they still don’t even acknowledge or understand the impact of their choices? I have no problem applying this verse to other mature adults but how often do I consider verses like this in light of how I relate to my kids?

When we forgive our children from sun up to sun down we mirror Christ to them. That’s the very thing I want to accomplish most as a mom.

Mothering is a beautiful thing. There’s boundless joy and myriads of wonderful moments where we see growth and love abound in our children, but when the hard chapters seem to flow one after the other, I’m reminded that I need to forgive and forgive and forgive again in all the purity of what forgiveness entails.

Forgive motivated by love.

Forgive without resignation.

Forgive with hope.

Forgive while believing the best.

Forgive the seventh time.

Or the seventieth.

(Here's a practical post you might enjoy called, 5 Steps We Teach Our Kids To Apologize Biblically!)

SHARE: Do you get worn down by certain perpetual behaviors with your kids? Is there any seed of resentment, bitterness, anger, or hopelessness in your heart as a result? I hope we can all be filled by the cleansing Word of God so that we can forgive as many times as we need to and persevere with hope! How can I pray for you today? 



Chore Charts Are Fine, But I Prefer Reward Charts!

I have never been a “chore chart” person. I love the idea and as organized as I am, it seems to me that I of all people should have one, but I don’t. That may change as my kids get a bit older but for us right now, I’m just not that into it. 

I prefer a different method of using chartS--REWARD CHARTS!

Years ago, as an elementary school teacher, I kept a large glass jar on my desk and a massive roll of tickets in my top drawer. Every time I caught someone doing something good—helping another student, picking up trash, working diligently, etc. I let them know that I was writing their name on a ticket and tossed it in the jar.

On Fridays, I plunged my hand into the jar and drew 5 names for super fun little prizes to honor the great attitudes, acts of kindness, and stellar work ethic of my students. My 6th graders LOVED it! And so did I!

As a mom, I think this method of fostering positive actions and encouraging my kids is just as effective! One mom recently shared that for her young kids, she was taking a change in their behavior one hour at a time. She set up a reward chart to help one particular little one just for the first two hours of their morning time together. If her son was successful in keeping his hands to himself and not hitting his little brother, he got to put a sticker on the chore chart! After just a few days, she saw a radical change in him! It was far more effective than all the punitive punishments, lectures, and time outs she had tried before. Eventually, she implemented the chart for the two hours leading up to dinner time too!

Here are a few reward charts you can print for free:

Try this FREE REWARD CHART--love the generic colorful design!

If I had a daughter, I would use this Princess Reward Chart (free printable)!

This chart comes in both Super Girl and Super Boy designs! My boys would love it!

This “I Caught You Being Good Jar” is the same idea I used in my classroom! 

Another mom friend, Alexis, tried something similar recently. I love her simple chart she made for her kids. Here’s what she had to say about it:

“I wanted to share this in here- our new "100 Chart". It's a tool for positive reinforcement that my kids have been loving. Instead of specific chore or behaviors whenever my kids do something positive they get a sticker..using an inside voice instead of shouting, cleaning up, helping with a sibling, getting ready quickly etc. It has been a very good tool in my house! And when the chart is filled they get the reward at the bottom! I'm not consistent enough so chore and behavior charts have always failed me but this format has been great!” 

You can even make your own basic layout and set out stickers, glitter and glue, crayons etc. to let your kids decorate the border of their own reward chart—when kids get excited about this fun new reward chart, they are even more motivated to do the right thing!

If you are struggling with a particular behavior or attitude and the cycle of frustration seems to never end, try this approach of positive reinforcement instead. Be upbeat and excited about it! Make a big deal of right actions and don’t freak out when they fail—keep emphasizing the behavior you want to see and honor them when they make progress! Fit the reward to your child’s personality and preferences and keep it achievable so they don’t want to give up! You and your children will find that dwelling on the right and good things you see in one another can change the entire tone of your home—and your relationship! 

(P.S. We NEVER remove a sticker or take away a reward they have earned! That would be super discouraging and defeat the purpose of reinforcing positive behavior. Kids will give up trying if the fun and positive vibe of the reward chart becomes punitive and negative.)